SUNRISE, Fla. — If any Islander could do with hitting the refresh button now that the playoffs are here, Ryan Strome is first in line.
The 22-year-old’s second full NHL season was the definition of “sophomore slump.” To think that his three-week demotion to AHL Bridgeport wasn’t even the low point of his year is hard to fathom, but he had just one goal and three assists over his final 27 games in the regular season while getting his usual allotment of ice time.
“Big time,” the always affable Strome said of starting fresh with Game 1 on Thursday night here against the Panthers. “There’s been a lot of ups and downs this year and I’ve been trying to find some consistency. The last 25 games or so were not at all what I expect of myself.”
In the big picture, Strome has cost himself some dough and some job security. His entry-level contract expires at the end of June and eight goals and 20 assists is not going to get him a long-term, big-bucks contract — if anything, he might just get to sign his one-year qualifying offer to take a bet on himself next season.
But there is the matter of this postseason and Strome can still redeem his season. He began last spring on the right side with John Tavares; on Thursday, he started the playoffs on the right side with two playoff rookies, Shane Prince and Alan Quine.
All three were from the 2011 draft class, with Strome (fifth overall) the prize of the group. So Strome can help ease some nerves for Prince, acquired at the trade deadline from the Senators, and Quine, whose crazy week of making his NHL debut after three seasons in Bridgeport now culminates with a Game 1 appearance.
And those two can perhaps give Strome the boost he needs to get going.
“The biggest thing I learned from the playoffs last year was how many ups and downs there are, how you have to stay steady through all the ebbs and flows in a series,” Strome said. “Our line needs to provide that spark for our group, we need to use our speed and energy to give everyone a jolt.
“From talking to a lot of the veteran guys we have the past few weeks, I think you understand that this time of year you need to set your ego aside. It’s one goal now, it’s all about the team and that’s what I’m focusing on.”
Prince and Quine got the call over Steve Bernier in Game 1 to try and give the Islanders a speed edge against a Panthers defense that is big, but not overly aggressive up the ice. Jack Capuano needed some scoring from his middle two lines and these three young guys got first crack at that chance — albeit knowing full well that Bernier could supplant any of them for Friday’s Game 2.
“I think that goes for everyone that’s in the lineup,” Prince said before Thursday’s game. “You have to produce to be able to stay out there. We’ve got some depth and in the playoffs you don’t get a lot of chances to succeed.”
Quine, who scored a shorthanded goal in his NHL debut on Saturday, is overwhelmed at getting his chance. “Had to tell the parents right away,” he said following Thursday’s morning skate. “It’s been a whirlwind. I just need to keep doing what I’ve done this year.”
And Strome needed to change things up. He had four points in seven playoff games last spring, so that’s what he was holding fast to in preparation for this go-round.